Is Mortgage Forgiveness the Answer?

Is Mortgage Forgiveness the Answer?

Some housing experts say the next logical step for helping home owners with negative equity is loan forgiveness.

Home owners with no equity stake and no likelihood of having one anytime soon are increasingly likely to walk away. Some theorize that curbing that trend is the only thing that will stabilize the market.

The nonprofit Milken Institute has devised a plan that would use Fannie Mae to refinance underwater loans with government money. Under the plan, a private lender would provide the money for the value of the home and the U.S. Treasury would issue a second, interest-only loan for the portion of the current mortgage that is underwater. Every year the home owner keeps current with payments, the Treasury would forgive a portion of the loan.

The institute estimates that this would save 1.5 million homes from foreclosure or abandonment and cost taxpayers between $75 billion and $100 billion.

Ken Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley, approves that plan, but urges returning some of the appreciation to the original lender as a reward for patience.

"The idea that these loans are worth face value is a fiction," says Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. "If we don't deal with [reducing] the balances, we're not really dealing with the problem."

Source: Los Angeles Times, Tom Petruno (06/27/2009)

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